Public Citizen Charges That DEA Failed to Report Physicians to National Practitioner Databank
The consumer group Public Citizen has sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft stating that the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has failed to report the names of "at least" 2,592 doctors who voluntarily surrendered their federal licenses to prescribe narcotics to the National Practioner Data Bank, the Wall Street Journal reports (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 6/7). Public Citizen urged Ashcroft to "immediately order" the DEA, a division of the Justice Department, to provide the names of these physicians to the NPDB, saying that the agency's failure to do so "has resulted in the "deception of those" who use the data bank. According to the letter, the data bank contains information on "286 physicians against whom a total of 294 DEA actions" were taken to revoke the licenses of the doctors, which occur when physicians have abused their power to prescribe narcotics or "have engaged in other unacceptable practices." However, the letter states that there is not a single report in the data bank of a physician who "voluntarily" surrendered his or her their federal (DEA) narcotic prescribing license between Sep. 1, 1990 -- the date of the NPDB's inception -- and the present," adding that these physicians "usually 'volunteer' to do so only because of impending license revocation." According to Public Citizen, its database of "20,125 Questionable Doctors" indicates that 2,592 doctors voluntarily surrendered their licenses, including the cases of an "Arizona physician [who] was criminally convicted of obtaining Halcion and Tylenol III (with codeine) by fraud" and a "Kentucky physician who admitted to having a sexual relationship with a patient in exchange for prescriptions" (Public Citizen letter, 6/6).
The Journal reports that Public Citizen, citing "internal memos" from the DEA, "alleges" that the agency "had agreed to provide" information about voluntary submissions to the data bank "but never did." However, Terry Woodworth, deputy director of diversion control at the DEA, called the letter "inaccurate," saying the "agency isn't required to report physicians who voluntarily surrender their licenses and is limited in doing so by privacy rules." He added that the DEA is "still working on issues related to the data bank and that much of the information about private doctors is already reported through state medical boards (Wall Street Journal, 6/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.